In 2011 at the Historic Bridge Convention in Missouri, I had a chance to meet Clark Vance in person and found him to be open-minded in many aspects, but having knowledge that is enriched for historic bridges, and other artefacts. Mr. Vance just recently retired from his position as high school teacher, but has been a key contributor of historic bridges for bridgehunter.com for as long as the website has existed, providing readers with photos and interesting facts on historic bridges, mainly in the Midwestern part of the US, centering around the states of Kansas and Missouri. Because of his contributions to historic bridges- as a photographer, historian and sometimes consultant- Mr. Vance won the Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.
I had a chance to interview him recently about his interests in the topic and found some more interesting facts about him, how his interest in historic bridges first started and some words of advice for those who are working in the field of historic bridges, in terms of photography and preservation. This is what I learned from him, as you read the interview:
Tell us more about yourself in terms of professional and private life.
I recently retired from 11 years of teaching engineering, math, and software engineering to high school students. I previously worked in IT and automotive technology. I still enjoy working with and driving my (too many) cars and motorcycles. My wife is a psychologist in private practice and her daughter is a professor at an art and design school. I highly recommend being retired.
What got you interested in historic bridges?
My father was a civil engineer with the Kansas Highway Department in the late ‘40s before going to work as a structural engineer in private industry. He didn’t mind my gazillion “What’s that?” questions as a kid and actually had the knowledge to answer a lot of them, particularly about man made artifacts in the natural environment. My curiosity about infrastructure was rewarded with good explanations of whatever odd item caught my attention. Some of my best times as a kid were when he and I would visit road construction sites and he would answer all my questions then add information about things I hadn’t noticed.
You do mostly bridge photography, right? Or do you write or talk about them?
My main public activity surrounding bridges is as a contributor to BridgeHunter.com. I’ve enjoyed old maps as a way to see into the past and discover things that are unused and forgotten. My enjoyment of driving back roads and hiking fit with this, and BridgeHunter gave me an excuse to photograph the things I found. I don’t consider myself a bridge expert or historian and I try to avoid spending too much time talking with others about bridges lest they consider me odd(er).
Do you teach historic bridges in school? If so, how?
I didn’t get a chance to teach the second year class where we taught truss analysis, so my role as an educator was mostly as an informal consultant for the students working on entries to bridge building competitions. I taught an intro civil class where I got to cover infrastructure and of course I exposed my students to a lot of structural history using bridges. I hope they came to appreciate the significance of structures that their later instructors will possibly dismiss as obsolete.
What kind of historic bridges do you look for?
Although I enjoy simply documenting older existing structures, my greatest enjoyment comes from locating and documenting bridges that have been forgotten. Most of the time there is little left physically but I like to record the location and identify any visible remnants. Kansas City still has places where one can see the paths worn by the wagons heading out on the Santa Fe Trail. For whatever reason, I feel it’s important for people to remember the paths used in the past.
A historic bridge in your opinion is…….
Defining what constitutes an historic bridge is similar to identifying an historic car. Anything old enough is worth preserving, and the more important it was when new, the more significant when old. Even the plainest, cheapest Model T should not be scrapped if it’s possible to preserve it. A Cadillac V-16 is obviously more rare and more worthy of preservation. From the perspective of the people trying to use objects in the economy, is would be foolish and wasteful to try to run a fleet of Model T taxis and it’s equally foolish to expect a tall, narrow pony truss to carry a combine or loaded grain trailer. It’s fun to drive old cars across the Chain of Rocks bridge but trying to keep it as part of the interstate system makes no sense.
What is your favorite historic bridge?
Picking favorites is difficult. Friends and I would walk out on the Chain of Rocks bridge not long after it closed. I haven’t been back since it got cleaned up but I imagine it’s still pretty spectacular. As a kid my family would visit relatives in southeast Kansas and I have a long standing love for the Marsh arches. I also enjoyed driving the old Flagler railroad bridges linking the Florida Keys back in the ‘70s.
What historic bridge(s) do you miss the most?
Probably the bridges I miss most are: The Chouteau Bridge in KC. Totally obsolete and awful for trucks and cars alike, it was nonetheless an important bridge when built and quite impressive an an old, still functioning work. The ASB automobile lanes were narrow and had a reputation for fatal accidents where the lanes split to go around the trusses. For better or worse, one could have a close look at the structure and mechanism while driving by. More generally, I miss the many through trusses that were everywhere when I began traveling and which have almost all been replaced by much more efficient boring bridges guaranteed to keep concrete plants busy repairing and replacing them.
What words of advice do you have for the following:
Photographing Historic Bridges: Get the big picture and the little details. Show the setting and what one would see driving by or passing under. Also, catch the details that can help identify the builder, date, and other parts of the history.
Teaching about Historic Bridges: I wish I had more knowledge about this. I found that I could engage students by providing some of the history behind modern concepts. Bridges played an important role in the development of engineering as a field, so I tried to cover bridge technology in discussions about changes brought about by developments in material science, structural analysis methods, etc.
Preserving Historic Bridges: Two things strike me as most important, public support and technical skills. Right now old bridges are in a place similar to steam locomotives in the ‘50s. They are being phased out and replaced by products deemed superior by policy makers. I don’t think there is much hope of their remaining in common use. The focus needs to be on finding ways to save them from being scrapped and preserving the knowledge needed to put them back in limited use when more of the public has the desire to experience the old technology. Each one lost will make the remaining ones more valuable and more likely to be saved.
Thank you for your time, Clark and wishing you all the best in your endeavors. J
The next question is who will win the now rebranded Bridgehunter Awards in the category Lifetime Achievement? If you haven’t voted yet, click here and you will be directed to the ballot. Deadline is January 10th and the winner will be announced two days later.
Note: Photos posted but not cited here are all courtesy of Clark Vance.
While we’re talking Bridgehunter Awards and Best Kept Secret, I would like to address this bridge as this week’s best pic. The Green Valley Bridge used to span Three-Mile Creek a mile north of Green Valley. It’s four miles north of Marshall, the county seat of Lyon County. It was a Warren pony truss bridge with riveted connections and vertical angles, having been built in 1931. While it is unknown who built the bridge, during my visit in 2010, I saw that there used to be a plaque on the end post, which had been removed years before. Henceforth it is most likely that if there was any information, it would be in the library at the State Historical Society or in the bridge archives at MnDOT (both in St. Paul).
Nevertheless, while going north to hunt bridges, the bridge was visible from MN Hwy. 23 and given the vast amounts of snow we got during the trip, the bridge was definitely worth the stop. While the area is flat enough that one can see the horizon as far as the eye can see, this bridge exemplified a typical wintry rural setting: a horizon full of trees lining along the river, telephone poles and drifts of snow. It had a serene setting where as long as the structure was left alone, it can serve its purpose.
Unfortunately, with an expanding cityscape like Marshall, combined with age, it was never meant to be left as is. It was removed in 2017 and replaced with a concrete slab bridge, serving as a reminder of progress at the expense of nature and enjoyment. Going past there in the winter time nowadays, if one stops for a visit, there’s no doubt that the photographer would be disgusted at the bland structure that has taken its place. If this is making America Great Again, then maybe they should reread the history books on how America became great to begin with.
After processing the candidates and adding some information to some of them, the time has come to vote for our favorite candidates in nine categories for the 2019 Bridgehunter Awards, powered by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. As mentioned earlier in the year, the Ammann Awards were changed to this name to honor some of the pontists, whose category and prizes have been named in their honor. Nevertheless though, the format is the same as in the previous awards. There are two voting ballots- one here and one on the next page (which you can click here). With the exception of the category Best Photo, each candidate has a link which you can access so that you can look at them more closely in terms of photos and information.
For Best Photo, I’ve decided to do it differently. One simply looks at the photos and votes. The names of the top six (including the winner) will be announced.
Voting is unlimited due to the high number of candidates in each of the categories- both on the US level as well as on the international level- and because many of us have multiple preferences than just one. 😉
Without further ado, here’s part I of the voting ballot and have fun voting. 🙂
After voting in the first part of the ballot, here is the second part and the same procedure as in the first. Information on the Lifetime Achievement Candidates you will find at the end of the ballot, including links. The deadline to vote is 11:59pm your local time on 10th January, 2020. The winners will be announced two days later. Good luck with the voting! 🙂
Information on the Lifetime Achievement Candidates:
Workin Bridges: In business since 2009, Workin Bridges has been the leader in restoring historic bridges in the United States, both big and small. Consisting of a crew of bridge restoration experts, the company has garnered up lots of awards for bridge restoration, plus documentaries on a couple key historic bridges. Link: https://www.workinbridges.org/
James Schiffer: Founder of Schiffer Group, based in Michigan, Mr. Schiffer brings over 30 years of experience in the world of civil engineering and has worked with several preservation groups in restoring some historic bridges; among them the Paper Mill Bridge, now in Delaware. Link:http://www.schiffergroup.com/
John Marvig: Mr. Marvig brings over a decade of experience in historic railroad bridges in the upper half of the United States. You can find them on his website: http://johnmarvigbridges.org/
Friends of Brunel’s Swivel Bridge in Bristol, England: This bridge celebrated its 170th birthday this year and the group has been working to restore and reactivate I.K. Brunel’s bridge over the canal and River Avon for almost a decade. This features bridge (preservation) experts, historians, welders, city officials and the like- both past and present. Link: https://www.brunelsotherbridge.org.uk/
James Baughn of bridgehunter.com: For almost two decades, Mr. Baughn has run Bridgehunter.com, a database containing millions of historic bridges in the United States and Puerto Rico, both past and present. It still is active in collecting and storing information for people to use. Link: http://bridgehunter.com/
Author’s Note:Should you have problems accessing the links in the different categories, highlight and copy (Ctrl. + C) the link you want to open, then paste (Ctrl. + V) it onto the bar of a new window. In case of further problems with the ballot, feel free to contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact form here.
Have you found something that was small and unnoticeable from the outside but you find high historic value in that you want to document on it? It could be a ghost town, abandoned church, a historic bridge that is closed or even a historic site that is open but doesn’t receive enough attention to get any notice? How would you document it: in print form, video, online, or a combination of the mentioned items? History is an underrated commodity where even the most popular places are sometimes ignored and hidden jewels that have high historic value are forgotten- buried under a pile of dirt representing time, until someone discovers it and want to talk about it.
Someone like Satolli Glassmeyer, the creator of History in Your Backyard (HYB). Launched in 2014, HYB is an online portal where videos on artefacts of the past can be found, be it abandoned school houses and churches, memorials commemorating history or in this case, historic bridges, which are disappearing in vast numbers every year. Much of the coverage has been between Chicago and Cleveland, for Mr. Glassmeyer originates from Cincinnati, Ohio and spent much of his childhood visiting many spots in the vicinity (and later beyond).
But how was HYB conceived and how successful has it been since its launch? The Chronicles did an interview with Mr. Glassmeyer and found out some interesting details about HYB and the direction it’s going in the future. Here’s what I found out about him and HYB’s successes. Please note that some video examples from HYB are included for you to watch.
I wanted to start off by asking you what motivated you to starting this video program?
This is kind of a long story but here we go….When I was a teenager back in the mid 1970s I had zero interest in history such as the War of 1812 or the Magna Carta. However I was a huge bicycle enthusiast riding my bike at least 10 miles a day and then typically doing 75-100 mile bike rides on a Saturday or Sunday. My longer weekend trips would take me through small towns where I began to fall in love with the buildings and bridges constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I was fascinated with what was built back then and with what little they had to work with compared to the modern construction equipment that we have today.
When I was 18 I bought my first car, a 1970 AMX which was also another passion of mine. About a year later I formed an AMX club in the greater Cincinnati area which eventually included 20-25 owners of these unique automobiles. We would get together once a month and have events for the club. Some of the “older guys” in their 30s and 40s taught us younger guys how to do “road rallies” which is basically a scavenger hunt using an automobile. Once again I fell in love with the road rally concept and did quite a few for the club as a hobby until I turned it into a business in the late 1990s called Scenic Road Rallies. With the rallies, I found that I was able to take my passion for fast automobiles and combine it with my passion for historic structures. In the direction packets that I handed out for each road rally event I included a few short lines about each historic building the teams would pass or each bridge they would cross over.
The teams enjoyed the short history lessons but asked for more information on these sites. Information that they could use on their own time without having to do a road rally event. So in 2011 I began producing driving booklets that I sold which were basically guided road tours spelling out in detail (With pictures) all of the historic buildings and bridges along the route. I put myself on a strict schedule of producing one driving tour booklet a month until after 2 years I had accumulated a small 24 volume library of tour guides.
Unfortunately the booklets didn’t sell as expected. A couple of friends pointed out that people don’t read much anymore and videos now seem to be the way most people get their information. I gave it some thought, then when out and bought a cheap video camera, named my new company History In Your Own Backyard and went off to document the forgotten historic structures in the region. That’s basically how we arrived at this point in time.
How are your historic places selected? Based on personal visit, personal request or both?
Since this is a business, I typically don’t choose the site, the client makes the selection be it a church, a bridge or a cemetery. If I have time after the clients shoot, I will go out and film other obscure sites such as bridges that I’m sure no client will pay for yet needs to be documented for future generations.
What is all involved in the filming process?
It’s a fairly involved process to film a site. I have a check list of 29 points that need to be addressed to get a video from start to finish. Beginning with discussing the potential project with the sponsor to contacting the local newspaper after the video is released so that they can write a story about the video project.
How do you collect the information on your historic artifact?
This is basically the sponsors responsibility. However if I am doing a video on a site of my choosing, the research process can entail online searches, books, personal interviews, etc. Each project is different when it comes to an information source and history is always muddy. No matter how much research you do, once the video is produced, someone will say “you’re wrong”. So you just have to do your best and keep an open mind that not everything you read or see is accurate.
Many videos on bridges are between a half hour and an hour. Yours are between 3-5 minutes on average, with some being only 10 minutes. Why so short?
Good question! My video style is much different from traditional videos.
Everyday around the world we lose historic buildings and bridges to fire, flood, storms, neglect, progress, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, etc. Nothing lasts forever and it’s important to me to document these structures as quickly as possible before they are lost forever. My goal is to produce 10,000 documentaries before I die. Right now I have about 420 documentaries completed which means even if I produce a documentary every day from here on out, I still have over 26 years of work ahead of me. I’m 62 now so I’m basically running out of time here.
I produce short documentaries for a couple of reasons:
One is that statistically speaking most people who watch a video on YouTube (Where all of my videos are featured) only watch about 4 minutes of a video before they click off and move on to the next selection. If you produce a relatively short video you have a better chance of having the video completely viewed to the end and a better chance of having the viewer share that video with their friends and family. Longer videos are rarely watched completely and it’s even rarer for them to be shared. The whole idea behind my project is to get as many eyes on these videos as possible so that people will sit up and take notice of these structures and possibly save them for future generations. My videos are not designed to be entertainment but rather peak peoples interest so that they get in their car and go out to look at the site.
Video production isn’t cheap and is very time consuming. When it comes to my videos, for every one minute of video you see, it takes about 1 hour of research, shooting video and editing to complete the job. So a 5 minute video may take about 5 hours while a 30 minute video could take 30 hours or more.
Secondly, I’m trying to do this project as cheaply as possible so that anyone who wants a video can afford it. I produce these videos at about 1/3 the going rate of a typical video production company. Mainly because I have very little overhead, a small crew and I’m pretty damn good at keeping costs down. I charge between $399.00 and $1899.00 to produce a video depending on the site, location and needs of the client.
A 50 minute long documentary you might see on PBS can take years to produce using an army of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know someone that produced a documentary for PBS using just grants. The documentary turned out great but took 5 years to make and over $120,000.00. I personally don’t have the time to mess around for 3, 4 or 5 years to produce one indepth video.
I know of a tourism bureau who had a local TV station produce a 60 second video on the sights and sounds of their town. The project cost them $6,000.00 ($100.00 per second) and all they received was a DVD of the project. It was never shown on TV. It was for their own personal use. Not many of my clients have $6,000.00 to spend on a 60 second video so that’s where I come into play with a decent quality video at a very reasonable price which will be viewed by thousands of people.
Aside from Youtube, how are your videos published?
Yes, my videos can be found on YouTube under the History In Your Own Backyard channel. All of those videos are linked to my website database where the videos are broken down by State/County/Town and also include a map to show the location of the site. (By clicking onto the two highlighted links, you will be redirected to their respective sites) All of the schools in the county where the video was shot and all of the schools in the surrounding counties are sent a link to the video so that the history teachers can share it with their students. All of the mayors and council members in the county where the video was shot and all of the council members in the surrounding counties are sent a link to the video so that they can share it with their residents. The video is placed on a Google Maps page where you can click on any of the 420+ pinpoints to see a video in that exact location. Eventually all of the videos will be archived in the state libraries where they were shot so that future generations can look back to see what existed in 2019. I did contact the Library of Congress regarding these videos being archived but that was very early on in the project. I was asked to contact the department later after I had a substantial number of videos produced. When I hit the 500 mark next year, I’ll reach back out to them.
How many people are on your staff?
My direct staff is just me and the two cats. However I do have a couple of interviewers that work for me directly on the videos shoots. So in a nutshell, I do just about everything, sales, research, shooting video, editing video and the archiving process.
Give me your top three favorite historic bridges that you’ve filmed?
Tough question Jason! In no particular order:
The Triple Whipple Bridge near Aurora, Indiana is high on my list. As someone else said, she’s the Queen Mary of all bridges! Beautiful, tall, restored and the only one of it’s kind still standing. The bridge is only about 15 miles from my home so I get to see her fairly often.
Film on the bridge:
The Dresden Suspension Bridge in Dresden, Ohio is a favorite that we just covered this year with the Ohio Historic Bridge Association. A beautiful bridge that is easily viewed.
Film on the bridge:
Finally the Crosley Bridge in Jennings County, Indiana. A private steel truss bridge built by Powel Crosley, the bridge is extremely narrow and hidden deep in the woods via a dirt road.
Film on the bridge:
What historic bridge do you regret seeing demolished?
Definitely it was the Cedar Grove Bridge in Cedar Grove, Indiana. Long story short, I was part of a group who tried to save this bridge from demolition. The State of Indiana offered to give our group the money they would pay for the demolition if we could find a local government entity who would take ownership of the bridge for 30 seconds while signing the bridge over to us where it would be refurbished and turned into a park for the locals. Unfortunately the town council in Cedar Grove and the Franklin County Commissioners had zero interest in seeing the bridge survive. After a 2+ year fight to save the bridge, when it became apparent that all of the government entities and the locals themselves had zero interest in the structure, we abandoned our cause and the bridge was demolished via the State of Indiana on February 17, 2016.
Film on the bridge’s demise:
Complete this sentence: A historic bridge in your opinion……..
A historic bridge in my opinion is a mix of style, engineering and quality from an era that we will never see again. It was a different breed of men that built bridges in the 1800s and early 1900s.
What is important for keeping the historic bridge “historic” instead of neglecting it to a point of demolition?
Once these bridges are gone, they are gone forever. Bridges are probably the most used structure no matter where they were built. Some bridges only see 5 or 10 crossing per day while others literally see tens of thousands of crossings if not more. It’s hard to think of another item produced by man that gets this much usage and can last for 100 or more years. Holding on to these structures for future generations is important not only for educational purposes but for general enjoyment as well.
What are your future plans for HYB? What bridges are on your agenda?
Right now as I think I mentioned earlier, I have over 420 videos produced and hope to add at least 100 more documentary videos in 2020. I have about 20 bridge videos that have been shot and are awaiting the editing process. They are scattered throughout Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia & West Virginia. Hopefully I can get those finished over the Winter.
If a person has a historic bridge that needs to be filmed, like for example Kern Bridge in Minnesota or the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, who to contact?
It’s simple, just give me (Satolli Glassmeyer) a call at 812-623-5727 between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm. If I don’t answer, leave a message. Or if you like, send an email to Info@HistoryInYourOwnBackyard.com. We can discuss your needs and wants for the video project while I guide you to the best option to preserve that bridge on video now and in the future.
A closing thought……Statistically speaking, over the next 100 years we will lose 50% of the historic bridges currently standing due to fire, flood, storms, neglect, progress, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, etc. 99% of those historic bridges will disappear over the next 200 years for the same reasons and eventually all will disappear. Nothing lasts forever. At some point down the road, we’ll no longer need bridges and this project will at least preserve the memory of when we used these engineering marvels to cross vast expanses of water or terrain
Thank you for your time and interview at the Chronicles and wishing you all the best in your career.
Just recently, HYB got its 1 millionth view on YouTube on its page. It currently has over 3900 viewers with just as many (if not more) visitors daily, which makes it one of the most popular short-film documentaries in the US. A video on that can be found here:
HYB provides people with a short glimpse of some of the historic artefacts that people can see while they are in the area, let alone should see before they are gone. Sometimes less means more- the most basic means the more interest in seeing the places in person. So as Satolli would say: Travel Slowly, Stop Often. 🙂
Author’s Note: Some of HYB’s bridges will also appear on this page from time to time, to encourage people to watch them and eventually visit them.
Prior to the closing deadline for entries to this year’s Bridgehunter Awards, one person had a recent discovery that had been buried for many decades until it was dug up. Little did Breck Ricketts realize that the discovery was much bigger than thought and it has a history going almost a century back. This is what I received via mail a couple weeks ago:
I have discovered a long and completely buried electric railway trestle spanning about 1000 feet long and 30 feet high over ‘9 mile creek’, Lansing Kansas. The railway was the “Kansas City & Leavenworth Interurban Railway” chartered in 1897 and running from 1900 to 1930. The railway was dismantled after its demise in 1938, and every bit of this railway has been long gone for years, until I recently found out the HUGE mound of chat (from the Lansing Prison Coal mine next door) that looked like the railway bed, actually was just 70 millions pounds of chat COVERING the old riveted iron railway trestle. The flood-way was widened about 15 years ago, and about 20 feet of the trestle was ripped our and tossed aside.
According to Ricketts, what he had dug up were two metal objects that were 2 feet wide and eight feet in between, thus making it a trestle span. It is possible that the structure may have been buried in dirt and running full length along a berm that is estimated to be at 1000 feet long. Drawings revealed that the height of the trestles before they were buried were between 22 and 24 feet tall and 22 feet high; enough for two trolley tracks.
Another photo revealed that the trestle was part of a through truss span, which featured an upper deck for Trolleys and a lower deck for cars. This would make the span even longer than the former double-decker truss span at Inver Grove Heights in Minnesota (two of the spans plus part of the through truss span have been preserved) or even the Foxboro Bridge in Pennsylvania (which has been extant since 2008). It is estimated that the main spans themselves may be 1000 feet long in total and the approach spans totalling just as long.
Yet this discovery is only a fraction of what has yet to be excavated and one digger will not be enough to help uncover a Bridge that has been buried in the dirt for over 60 years. While manpower and politics will help in encouraging the continuation of the excavation, just as equally important is the Research on the bridge’s history. The history of the line can be found in the text with a link under the name of the interurban line.
If you know of any more information about the trestle and its history or would like to help with the excavation, please contact Breck Ricketts using the following telephone number: 913-271-7314. You can also leave a comment here in the Chronicles. This trestle has been nominated for this year’s Bridgehunter Awards under the categories of Best Kept Secret Individual Bridge and Mystery Bridge.
This week’s Pic of the Week brings winter, holidays and bridgehunting together. It’s a throwback to 2010 and my trip to the States for Christmas. Together with another fellow pontist, who is also a civil engineer, we had a chance to visit several bridges in and around the Twin Cities before he had to leave to visit family members. Even though I also visited some friends in the Cities, I stopped for some photo opps along the way, like this one in Minneapolis at Boom Island Bridge. This 8-panel through truss Bridge with pinned connections and Howe lattice Portal bracings was built in 1901 by –Butler-Ryan Co.of St. Paul, Minnesota, with Charles Frederick Lowethof Cleveland, Ohio being the designer and R.B. Tweedy being the chief engineer. The bridge was most recently renovated for bike use but when this was taken, there were eight inches of snow on the ground- thick enough for even snowmobiling. The purplish-blue setting reflects on the overcast skies with the ground all covered in snow. A great scene for a picture like this, taken while in tunnel view. Sometimes the best bridge pics are taken when there’s snow on the ground and in certain angles like this one. 🙂
Enjoy the pic and have a great Holiday Season! 🙂 ❤
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels